16 January 2002
Text: Kennedy Speaks on National Security, U.S. Economy
(Senator says some tax cuts should be delayed) (4960)
The first priority of the United States is to stand with its President
and armed forces in the fight against terrorism overseas and to do all
it can to protect the homefront against possible new acts of
terrorism, Senator Edward M. Kennedy says.
In a speech prepared for delivery January 16 at the National Press
Club in Washington, the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education,
Labor and Pensions Committee applauded the bipartisan support for the
Bush administration's anti-terrorism campaign, but, at the same time,
deplored the lack of attention to domestic challenges such as
education and prescription drug benefits for the elderly.
"We must reinforce the nation on the homefront by meeting the great
domestic challenges here with the same determination that we all have
brought to the great challenge from abroad," he said.
Kennedy proposed that some tax cuts now scheduled to take effect in
2004 and beyond, under President Bush's 10-year $1.35 trillion tax
cut, be delayed so the federal government can fund domestic programs
without borrowing from Social Security and Medicare funds.
The tax cut, Kennedy pointed out, was enacted before an economic
recession began eroding the government's surplus projections and prior
to the September 11 terror attacks that prompted a jump in defense and
"Whatever the merits or demerits of last year's tax bill, it was
enacted in what now seems a very different and distant time," Kennedy
said. "We must think anew, and act responsibly."
Kennedy said taxpayers earning less than $130,000 would not be
affected by the delayed income tax cuts he proposes and that
higher-income people "will still be receiving billions of dollars in
new tax breaks" even if Congress enacted his proposal.
"Future additional tax breaks for the wealthy do not deserve a higher
priority than strengthening education, or covering prescription drugs
under Medicare, or protecting Social Security, or meeting other urgent
national priorities," said Kennedy.
Following is the text of Kennedy's remarks, as prepared for delivery:
REMARKS OF SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY
NATIONAL PRESS CLUB
January 16, 2002
America's New Challenges: National Security, Economic Recovery and
Progress for All Americans
Two years ago this month, we celebrated the beginning of a new century
-- indeed, a new millennium. Many people called it the beginning of a
But a new age does not necessarily obey the calendar. A very different
kind of new age was ushered in four months ago. The tragedy of
September 11 changed America as few events have changed us before in
our history. We were stunned by our own vulnerability, shaken by the
destruction, and touched by the terrible human losses. President Bush
deserves high marks for his leadership as Commander in Chief in
meeting this supreme challenge. Together with my fellow citizens and
my fellow Democrats, I support him and I salute his resolve in the
fateful fight against terrorism -- and for freedom from fear.
A week from today, Congress returns to renew our part in serving and
strengthening the nation.
Our first priority is to stand with the President and our armed forces
on the frontlines overseas, and to do all we can to protect the
homefront against possible new acts of terrorism. But there is another
challenge which also demands the best of all of us, and which I hope
we can approach with a new bipartisanship. We must reinforce the
nation on the homefront by meeting the great domestic challenges here
with the same determination that we all have brought to the great
challenge from abroad. Despite all the dangers and difficulties, we
enter this period with extraordinary possibilities for progress.
A new spirit has taken hold in America -- a new sense of community --
a new willingness and new commitment to help others -- a new
understanding that we are all in this together -- a new recognition of
the helpful role of government -- a new readiness on the part of the
vast majority of citizens to ask what they can do for each other and
for our country.
In this new time, it is right to stand with the President on the war
front -- and it is just as right to stand up for fundamental
principles on the home front. We can and should support President
Bush's conduct of the war, and still ask the administration to join us
in addressing the urgent needs of our people in areas like jobs,
education, health care, and equal rights.
Some suggest that the nation is returning to business as usual -- to
politics as usual. I reject that view. The spirit of September 11th is
a mandate for new missions, not a summons to selfishness.
If we accept less, we fail the innocent men and women and rescue
workers who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks. We fail the
courageous men and women in uniform who have served so brilliantly in
recent months. We fail the spirit of September 11th. We fail America
Clearly, our number one priority at home -- now and in the years ahead
-- is the strength of the national economy. It makes no sense for
anyone in Congress or the Administration to try to blur the very
obvious difference between the short run and the long run. Both are
essential for our economic security, and we face major challenges on
The most urgent short-run need is economic recovery. I strongly
support Senator Daschle's plan. I believe Democrats are ready to work
with the President for the kind of immediate, temporary, and fair
stimulus that is essential to end this lingering recession and put our
national economy back on the path of solid growth for the future.
Neither side will get all it wants if we work together here. But
surely we can agree to focus on the large number of laid-off workers
and their families who are hurting, and who deserve help the most
while they look for new jobs. Surely we can agree on the tax
incentives that will actually encourage business investment now,
without letting them become a transparent pretext for unaffordable
longer-term tax giveaways or special interest bonanzas that the
country can't afford.
In this new session of Congress, we must also join together to do a
better job of laying the groundwork for meeting and mastering the
longer-run challenges before us.
We are being called to action again, as we have been called before at
decisive times in our history. We are fighting a war against terrorism
-- and we are also fighting for our values. Our resources may be
limited, but 2002 can be a year in which we make progress on the great
unfinished business of our society.
One essential priority is to continue our intense focus on education.
For too long, public education has been highly unequal from
kindergarten through 12th grade. The new school reform law can go a
long way to close the gap -- but only if we stay the course, and
provide the increased resources and guidance essential for schools and
students to meet and fulfill the high potential of this far-reaching
and genuinely bipartisan achievement.
I was proud to stand with President Bush as he signed that reform into
law. But this is no time for any of us to rest on any laurels. We have
only just begun to renew our education system. We have much more to do
to realize the ideal of "no child left behind."
The next great frontier of our commitment to reform should be early
childhood education. The politics are complicated, but the goal is
simple. Every child should start school ready to learn.
Science tells us that the roots of academic difficulty are established
well before the first day of school. In the absence of intervention,
children from low-income families score consistently lower on
developmental tests by age 2, and the differences increase over time.
Children who fall far behind before they enter school have a far more
difficult time catching up -- but well-designed programs can enhance
their learning in the preschool years.
And yet, after nearly 35 years of investment in Head Start, only three
out of every five eligible children are enrolled. Early Head Start is
the only federal program serving infants and toddlers who are living
in poverty -- yet it reaches less than five percent -- five percent --
of eligible children.
I welcome Mrs. Bush's strong interest and dedication to this issue.
She will testify next week before our Education Committee in the
Senate. I believe that she and the President can and will join us in
working together to develop an effective strategy to promote learning
in the earliest years of life.
Like elementary and secondary education, building an effective early
education system for the nation will take time, commitment, and
resources. Therefore, I propose that we set a bold yet realistic goal.
Over the next five years, we should develop the capacity to assure
that every child has access to quality early education, starting at
Success in this effort will be achieved if we meet three core
objectives. First, we must demand value from our investments. In early
education, value is reflected in the quality of a range of important
services. The most significant factors are the knowledge and skills of
the service providers, and their capacity to form strong relationships
with children and their families. These personal characteristics are
influenced by training and compensation. Yet thirty states have no
training requirements for preschool teachers before they begin to
teach. Parking lot attendants are generally paid more to watch our
cars than early education professionals are paid to teach our youngest
children. On average, early education providers earn 15,430 dollars a
year. It can and must become a national priority to change this -- to
improve the skills, the pay, and the retention of the professionals
who teach our children at the dawn of life.
Second, we must acknowledge that school readiness is not only about
promoting early literacy and other academic skills. Science tells us
that how children feel is as important as how they think, particularly
if we are concerned about their capacity to succeed when they get to
school. Knowing the alphabet and counting to 10 are not enough, if you
can't sit still or pay attention in the classroom. All young children,
regardless of their God-given abilities and economic circumstances,
must be engaged in caring relationships and provided with a variety of
opportunities to learn in a safe and stimulating environment. We
already know what is needed to promote the intellectual, social, and
emotional skills required to learn in school. The time has come for
this nation to use that knowledge to help all children achieve that
competence -- for their own sake, for the sake of their teachers and
classmates, and for the sake of America's future.
Third, it is imperative to develop genuine partnerships among federal,
state, and local governments to create a more unified and effective
system of early education services for all children, particularly
those at greatest risk. Forty-one states are already investing in
early education. The early childhood landscape includes a variety of
programs, from subsidized child care facilities and private nursery
schools to Head Start centers and early intervention services for
children with special needs. Too few of the efforts are
well-coordinated with each other, but all are guided by the same
underlying science. On this shared knowledge base, we must now build
stronger ties and eliminate arbitrary barriers. The time has come to
coordinate and strengthen the capacity of Head Start and Early Head
Start, child welfare, child care, and agencies that administer welfare
I have worked with other members of Congress on bipartisan legislation
to provide resources to states and localities to bring existing early
learning programs together, and to begin a universal initiative in
early education. Although the selection of specific service priorities
is best left to states and communities, the federal government can
provide greater incentives for the states to create more coherent
systems, setting and implementing strategies to assure that young
children -- all young children -- will be healthier, more secure, and
ready to learn.
We must narrow the gap between what we know and what we do, to give
every young child in America the best possible start in life. We must
see to it that millions of children are not left far behind even
before they enter the first grade. In the next year, we must address
this vastly important frontier of education reform -- the first five
years of life.
Our goals for America also demand a higher priority for health care.
One out of six Americans has no health insurance. The problem is
becoming worse, not better. Increasingly, people with disabilities and
other illnesses are being shut out of coverage. As the cost of care
increases and jobs become less secure, more and more Americans are
losing the coverage they have, and they fear that the sudden illness
of a child or a loved one will bankrupt their family.
As a result, too many too often go without the health care they need.
In fact, those without health coverage are four times more likely not
to get medical care than insured Americans. Lack of health insurance
is the seventh leading cause of death in the nation today. Medical
bills too often force the uninsured to default on their debts or lose
everything they have. Inevitably, as medicine advances and as more and
more medical miracles become available in this extraordinary new age
of the life sciences, health care is increasingly beyond the reach of
large numbers of Americans.
America cannot have the best workforce in the world if we do not also
have the healthiest workforce in the world. Our failure to guarantee
health care is one of our greatest failures as a nation. More than
ever, in our modern society, health security should be and must be a
basic right for all.
The battle for quality, affordable health care has never been easy. If
it were, we would have enacted it a generation ago. But as the new
spirit after September 11 calls forth the best in all of us, it
challenges us to move forward to good health care for all Americans.
We saw what could be achieved in education reform with genuine
bipartisanship. There are disagreements on health policy, as there
were and are on education. But at least we should be able to work
together for goals widely shared by all Americans, and endorsed by
both Presidential nominees in 2000.
We can and should take two major steps this year -- pass the Patients
Bill of Rights and pass prescription drug coverage for all senior
Too often today, HMOs and insurance companies dictate treatment based
on economic cost, not medical need. A good Patients Bill of Rights is
nearing final approval, and we should complete it as soon as possible.
Too many patients across the country have waited too long. It's time
for Congress to give them the simple justice of basic protections
against HMO abuses.
On Medicare, as prescription drug prices soar, the shameful gap in
that basic and beloved federal program becomes increasingly
unconscionable. Senior citizens are suffering needlessly because they
cannot afford the drugs they need.
Medicare is a solemn promise to every citizen. It says: "Work hard.
Contribute to the system. Play by the rules. And we will guarantee
affordable health care when you are old." But the world has changed
since 1965, and the old ways of Medicare will not do. The power and
potential of prescription drugs have revolutionized health care. We
break the promise we made then if we leave senior citizens with a kind
of half-Medicare that leaves them without medicines essential to
health or even life itself.
Some say that in light of the budget projections, this nation cannot
afford prescription drug coverage. But just as a family budget is a
statement of a family's priorities, a national budget is a statement
of national priorities -- and our national priorities are profoundly
wrong if we continue to force senior citizens to choose between their
prescriptions and their food or their heat or a decent home. It is
long past time to close the gap on prescription drugs -- to make
Medicare whole again -- and 2002 can and must be the year when we do
This effort -- and the plight of the elderly -- must not become the
pretext for a partisan plan which disguises yet another attempt to
privatize Medicare. Our seniors deserve better than that. So I am here
today to say that we will not rest, we will not give up, we will not
stop until our senior citizens have a genuine Medicare prescription
drug benefit that works well for all of them.
If we have the will, we can take three other steps -- this year -- to
ease the growing national crisis over access to health care.
We can build on the Children's Health Insurance Program enacted in
1997 -- by passing the bipartisan legislation introduced last year, to
enable parents to qualify for the coverage already available to their
children. We can pass the bipartisan legislation now pending to
provide affordable health care to families with disabled children.
And we can begin, on a bipartisan basis, to fashion legislation that
will require employers with more than 100 workers to be good corporate
citizens and provide basic health insurance for their workforce. I
know how hard it will be to hammer out an agreement here. But we must
try. And if at first we cannot achieve a reasonable approach across
party lines, then we must continue to press the case. I believe that
we can ultimately prevail -- because I believe the American people,
across the political spectrum, are ready for national health reform.
We must act on the minimum wage as well. The downturn in the economy
has placed strains on the lives of many families. And, as wages
stagnate, workers at the bottom suffer most. The current minimum wage
is only five dollars and fifteen cents an hour. Americans earning the
minimum wage, working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, earn only
10,700 dollars a year -- nearly 4,000 dollars below the poverty level
for a family of three. On this meager income, they fail to earn enough
to afford adequate housing in any area of this country. We must raise
the minimum wage by a dollar fifty an hour -- and raise it now. No one
who works for a living should have to live in poverty.
In addition, the spirit of September 11 calls for policies that not
only help working men and women earn a decent living, but assure them
time to meet their obligations to their families and their
We must stop asking parents to solve the work-family conflict on their
own. We are in a new time and a new place, and we need new solutions.
And we must ask private businesses to be partners in this mission.
Our future depends on the development of healthy, well-educated,
responsible citizens. Yet our government provides far less support for
working and non-working parents than the governments of other nations.
This abdication of modern responsibility contributes to the high rate
of child poverty in the nation, and the tremendous pressure on today's
parents to choose between the jobs they need and the children they
We must embrace a new model of the workplace -- one that values the
needs of parents and all others who care for children. Parents should
have the right to leave work to care for a sick child or participate
in a parent-teacher conference. New parents deserve assistance so they
can afford leave to care for their newborn or newly adopted children.
Part-time work must become an affordable and valued alternative to
full-time work. Businesses should employ technologies that offer the
flexibility to work from home. No one should be required to work
overtime when they know it is not healthy, safe, or feasible. We must
secure more affordable, more accessible, high quality child-care.
Next, we know that those who lost their lives on September 11th were
not the only victims of that sad day. For every life lost, there are
children, wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, friends, and colleagues
who will forever feel the pain of that day.
As we have sought to reach out to them, we have found that our
nation's safety net falls short of our nation's generous spirit.
Survivors' benefits under Social Security are inadequate to care for
the many children who lost their parents. Workers' compensation is
insufficient to provide the injured with adequate support for a
lifetime of pain. Unemployment insurance and health insurance do not
go far enough to help laid-off workers. We must close the gaps in our
safety net. The changes we make can be among the most meaningful
memorials of all to those who lost their lives on September 11th.
At the same time, we must protect the pensions and retirement savings
of all workers from the threat of future Enrons. We cannot allow
corporate executives to cash in and take home millions while their
workers' retirement savings disappear.
We must continue our long-standing bipartisan support of the
collective bargaining process, which enables workers and businesses to
settle their disputes effectively and fairly.
We must continue to advance the cause of civil rights by strengthening
enforcement and oversight, not weakening it.
We should extend equality by prohibiting employers from using sexual
orientation as a basis for hiring, firing, promotion, or compensation.
It is time -- it is long past time -- to write the Employment
Non-Discrimination Act into the laws of this land. We know of victims
in the World Trade Center -- contributing, hard-working citizens, who
were gay. So was one of the heroes of Flight 93. They died because
they were Americans. And their memory should tell us that all
Americans should be able to live their lives as full citizens of a
And now more than ever after the indelible sight of the horrors
inflicted by hate on September 11th, we must pass hate crimes
legislation. Let us send a strong, unequivocal message that
hate-motivated violence in any form, from any source, for any reason,
will not be tolerated anywhere in this country.
We must continue the battle for responsible gun control, by closing
the gun-show loophole, by reversing any misguided attempt to undermine
the existing background-check system, and by letting the FBI review
federal gun records in the investigation of terrorism and other
As we work together to strengthen our immigration laws against
terrorists, let us also move forward on lasting and long-overdue
reforms that will benefit immigrant workers and their families, along
with American business and the American economy.
This is a time to stand up for freedom, to heal hurt and injustice,
and most of all to serve others. The spirit of assisting others is at
an all-time high in our history. It is time for a renewed national
resolve to enhance national and community service, so that far more
opportunities and incentives will be available for Americans to give
something of themselves to help others here at home and in other
Effective action against international poverty must become a new
national priority. We must do more -- much more -- to ease the harsh
conditions in so much of the world that are breeding grounds for
despair, extremism, and violence. To succeed -- not just now, but in
the years ahead -- the global war on terrorism must also be a global
war on poverty. This is not only a matter of moral obligation; it is
an urgent, practical, indispensable element of our future national
As night follows day, some will of course say that we cannot afford to
move America forward in all these ways. But it is clear that we can
afford to do what is right if together we return to fiscal
Many fiscally responsible voices, including a number of leading
members of the business community, have said we cannot now afford --
if we ever could -- the 1.7 trillion dollar cost of the tax cuts
enacted last year. The doubts that many of us had before the nation
was attacked about the affordability of those tax cuts have become
certainties in the wake of September 11th.
The spirit of this new time is placing major new demands on our
national resources, and those demands must take priority. We cannot
meet them while making all of the planned future tax cuts unless we
raid Social Security and Medicare and cut health, education, and other
vital goals. To me, that is not only unacceptable; it is a violation
of fundamental pledges that both parties gave in the 2000 campaign.
So why can't we come together, without recrimination or placing blame,
and agree on a simple basic proposition. Whatever the merits or
demerits of last year's tax bill, it was enacted in what now seems a
very different and distant time. Today, for the sake of our country,
we must transcend the old boundaries of debate. We must think anew,
and act responsibly.
We can and should postpone a portion of the future tax cuts that
overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest taxpayers. Those tax cuts are
not scheduled to be made until 2004 and later. We should put them on
hold until we are certain that we can afford a prescription drug
benefit for senior citizens, make the needed investments in education
and health care, protect Social Security and fully provide for the
My proposal would put on hold approximately 350 billion dollars in
future tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans during the next ten
years. Over one trillion dollars of tax cuts will still take effect as
scheduled. Families earning less than 130,000 dollars a year and
filing joint returns would not be affected. No taxpayers would pay a
higher tax rate than they pay now. In fact, income tax rates for
everyone will still be lower in 2002 and in succeeding years than they
were in 2001. The child tax credit would be increased as planned, and
marriage penalty relief would be provided as scheduled.
We can achieve 350 billion dollars in savings by avoiding these future
reductions in the tax rates paid by the wealthiest taxpayers in the
highest income brackets, and by maintaining the tax on estates above 4
million dollars. These wealthiest taxpayers will receive less of a tax
reduction than they anticipated -- but they will still be receiving
billions of dollars in new tax breaks.
These future tax cuts for those at the top are not part of the fight
against the recession. They are not scheduled to occur until long
after the economy emerges from the downturn. In fact, taking fiscally
responsible action now will actually help the economy -- by leading to
reductions in long-term interest rates that have remained stubbornly
high because of the fear that unaffordable tax cuts will lead to
growing federal deficits throughout the decade. Reducing that threat
will reduce the cost of long-term borrowing for businesses, and
provide a stimulus for new job creation now.
Future additional tax breaks for the wealthy do not deserve higher
priority than strengthening education -- or covering prescription
drugs under Medicare -- or protecting Social Security -- or meeting
other urgent national priorities.
I have no illusions that the work ahead will be easy, or that the
debates in Congress will be easily resolved. We had to disagree,
discuss, and listen to each other to reach the historic reform in
education that the President has just signed into law. Positions that
were once regarded as non-negotiable had to give way.
We will not end all our differences, nor should we yield on
fundamental principles in which we believe. Of course, some will
disagree with some of the proposals I have made today. Some no doubt
will disagree with most or all of them.
But surely, for example, a future tax cut for the wealthiest, which
they have not yet received, is not a matter of high principle. We have
more urgent needs at home as well as abroad. And we cannot be strong
abroad if we are weak at home.
So I look forward to this new session of Congress, to the dialogue
ahead, and the progress we can make. This is a time of testing unlike
any other in our history. Our adversaries thought they could force us
to retreat. But we will not and must not retreat -- abroad or at home.
The American people have shown that they are ready for great missions
that meet the demands of this new age. They are the creators of the
new spirit of September 11th. Now, we in public life must match the
standard the people have set. I intend to do my best to see that we do
what is best -- not just for one political party or the other, but for
America and its enduring ideal of "liberty and justice for all."
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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